Written by Marc Morgenstern
Stranger squeezed my right arm in the Gelson’s Market parking lot this morning. More precisely, my elbow and the pouch of loose skin just above it. Her hand-kneaded me once, twice, like I was a peach.
Stone fruit should be arriving one of these weeks, even in the season of the new plague.
I’d already noticed her, lined up exactly six feet behind me, waiting for the 7 am seniors-only shopping hour to start. Plum-colored fleece with hood, slate hair escaping, face in shadow except for a flash of ripe lipstick. Men on either side of us pondered if the toilet paper shipment had arrived, whether apples, oranges, and bananas would still be the only fruits in stock. At least bananas and oranges have protective covers, one of them said.
Checked my phone as if a new alert might appear with digital certainty. Or maybe a text from one of my adult children to warm or warn me. Or another frantic voicemail from my 89-year-old mother auto-transcribed as hysteric haiku. I counted seventeen of us in line, all lit by their screens. But not this woman.
Man in front of me said he’d heard the store may have changed its policy—no more reusable shopping bags to be brought inside.
“So planet be damned?” grumbled another guy.
“Might be just another rumor.”
That’s when I felt her hand on my arm, squeezing, as she plunged past to ask the manager whether it was true.
Normally, I would have been flattered, maybe even blushing. Man my age doesn’t often get touched—accidentally or intentionally—by a woman unknown to him. But I recoiled, rushing off to my car, invaded, feverish, stifling a cough.
Careful not to touch the spot she’d squeezed, I peeled off my jacket and threw it into the trunk. Slammed it shut, noticing my pink fingertips poking through ripped rubber gloves.
My body thrummed a message, louder than days’ usual subway scatter: I must go home now.
Urge to scrub my hands, wiggling wet fingers forming church, steeple, people.
Still… the manager, dressed in black apron and surgical gloves, beckoned like a traffic cop husbanding a green signal. Five in at a time, only please. No bread delivery today—limit of two per customer.
Returned to my place in line, gap behind me now twelve feet, woman gone. Shuffled like chained prisoners towards the open door, antiseptic light shining, wondering whether there’d be stone fruit today.
Marc Morgenstern is a former journalist and Emmy Award-winning TV news producer, and a graduate of the Warren Wilson College MFA Program for Writers. He was recently a finalist in the University of Arizona's Tucson Festival of Books Literary Awards. His short stories have been published in: 'Still Points Arts Quarterly', 'Corners of the World: Of the Book Anthology', 'Soundings Review', 'JMWW', 'Blue Lyra Review', and 'Digital Papercut', among others. Marc’s non-fiction has appeared in 'The New York Times', 'The Christian Science Monitor', and on the 'MOTH stage'. Marc teaches at the UCLA Wordcommandos writing workshop for veterans with PTSD, and also founded the 'Write Place' writing program for the homeless at his hometown Santa Monica, CA Public Library